Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Here I Am, Send Me (Isaiah 6:8)

Go Ye Unto All the World, and Preach the Gospel to Every Creature             (Mark 16:15)

As Dionne and I made our final preparations for our mission, our son Bryan gave us the advice to get to know and feed the young missionaries. On their mission, Bryan and Jami had both been touched by a number of senior couples so they knew the effect a good senior couple could have on young missionaries. One couple, the Griffs, stood out and they have remained good friends with them.

What Bryan did not tell us, however, was how much an effect the young missionaries would have upon Dionne and I. Simply put, they are the best part of the mission. Serving with them has been a joy and an honor. This post is about the missionaries that we have served with so far.

Missionaries eating lunch during District Meeting.

"Missionary" - Someone Who Leaves Their Family for a Short Time So That Others May Be With Their Families for Eternity

Some young Latter-Day Saints chose to postpone their lives to serve missions for the church. They save their money to pay for their mission. They do not chose where they will go. They willingly submit to a long list of rules and restrictions. They do without television, movies, worldly music, iPhones, dating, and many recreational activities. They leave their families behind. While they email with them weekly, they only talk to them (Skype) on Christmas and Mother's Day.

Elder Hole enjoying his Christmas Skype session with home.

Within the mission, the area that they serve in is at the Mission President's discretion. They are assigned a companion and asked to learn how to get along. Usually about the time they have learned how to live with this person, they are assigned to move to another city with a different companion.

Good friends and former companions Sister Rougeau and Sister Rollins saying a surprise goodbye. Sister Rollins was transferred unexpectedly and they realized that they would likely not see each other again until after their missions. 
Their day-to-day schedule is difficult. They wake up at 6:30 every morning and go to bed by 10:00. Every moment of their day is spent working. They study the language, study the Gospel, do service, seek out investigators, and teach. Six days a week.

Elder Isom and Sister Higlee role playing during district meeting. 
They get one partial day off a week. This is called their preparation day. This is when they email family, shop, do laundry, clean their apartment, and play. After 6 days of working, they do like to play on their P-day. They are not allowed to do high risk activities such as skiing, horseback riding, rock climbing, or almost anything that you would do at Scout Camp. But they still find things to enjoy on P-day. This is Elder Rasmussen on the Sunnyland Mountain Coaster.

Chilling in a chair made for two.

The Most Effective Missionaries Always Act Out of Love - Dallin H. Oaks

In an area like Bosnia which has relatively few members, these young missionaries have a very difficult job. Their mandate is to invite people to come to Jesus Christ, a somewhat daunting task in Muslim-majority cities like Sarajevo and Tuzla. Rejection is part of the job description. Although they may intellectually realize that they are not being rejected personally, it still hurts personally. Sisters Rougeau and Martineau, for example, have knocked on 700 doors over the past two weeks to no effect. They know that this is an ineffective method for finding people to teach. But they have faith that they will find that one person who has been prepared by the Spirit to hear their message. They are willing to suffer daily indignities and rejection because of their love for that one individual. Which is exactly what the Savior was willing to do as well.

Elder Isom with recent convert Fadil.
When it works, you can see the hand of God at play. I was talking to a recent Sarajevo convert and my friend, Prof. Krishna Mohan, about what attracted him to church. His response was that as soon as he met the sister missionaries, he could feel their love for him. That feeling grew stronger and stronger as he continued to meet with them. He just knew that there was something different about them. And about what they were teaching him. That lead to his own spiritual experiences and, ultimately, to his desire to join the church. (Mohan...if I got any part of this story wrong, please correct me in the comments section!)

Prof. Mohan and Sister Anjewierden after she learned that she was being transferred.
There will always be a special bond between these two.
I once heard a mission president say that missionaries are "making lifetime commitments" to the people that they teach and bring to Christ. I can attest to this truth. Although these young missionaries will return home and a hit the "unpause" button on their own lives, those who they have taught will never be far from their hearts. Love is a powerful force.

All's well in Tuzla. 

By Helping Others Come Unto Him, You Will Find That You Will Come Unto Him Yourself - Henry B. Eyring

So why do they do it? Why give up 18-months (sisters) or 2-years (elders) of their lives? The answers vary by missionary. Many serve because they feel obligated. Their parents, their bishop, their friends, their siblings, or a teacher has made them feel like they need to serve a mission. Mormon culture, especially in Utah, puts a lot of pressure upon these kids to come serve missions.

Our "class" of missionaries at the MTC. We came out with this group.

LDS scholar Kevin Barney recently wrote an honest article about why he went on his mission. In retrospect, his four reasons were 1) (unstated) familial expectation ("I don't ever remember talking about my going on a mission with my family...of course I would be going"), 2) my friends were all going ("virtually all my church friends were going", 3) missionaries showing me the ropes ("I genuinely admired those guys and they gave me a certain comfort level"), and 4) I wanted to get married someday ("I seriously had the idea that no Mormon girl would ever marry me if I didn't serve a mission"). He was glad he went. But he also realized that he was a spiritual pygmy when he left on his mission. Aren't we all?

Our missionaries over Christmas.
Speaking of "marriage," our oldest, Bryan, married Sister Pittman from his mission.
Always makes us wonder who might or might not be compatible later on.
I have heard some missionaries say they are serving because they know what effect their mission will have upon them. They desire the change of heart that being a "good" missionary can deliver. Other missionaries are here because God has touched their heart and they felt compelled to come. Their simple desire is to be obedient and do whatever God wants them to do.

Another reason to come on a mission might be all of the wonderful European food. We do like to eat here.
And then there is that rare missionary. The missionary that came across the world simply because of love. This is where the hearts of many of these young people will arrive by the end of their mission. But there are a few who started here. This individual's mission did not start when he received his mission papers. She was a missionary back home and will be a missionary when she goes home.

The Sisters at a conference.

We Do Not Find the Savior Using Force or Coercion - Ezra Taft Benson

True conversion to pure religion is only accomplished by the sweet promptings of the Holy Spirit. It is not accomplished by the sword, by apologetic persuasion, or by political mandate. True conversion is miraculous by its very nature.

Missionaries in Rijeka.

These young missionaries are trying to help Bosnians experience miracles in their lives. To be effective, however, they have to extol without manipulation, coercion, or pressure. In other words, they are sales people but they cannot use any of the traditional tricks. In their place, they use honesty, sincerity, and love.

Elder Evans deep in thought as he studies.
And even when they are perfect, those who listen to their message have to humble their own hearts to be able to feel the Spirit. They have to develop a relationship with God that is completely independent of the missionaries. And many of the people that they teach already have very personal relationships with God. They walk a fine line as they teach true doctrine while not ever desiring to challenge faith.

Sister Anjewierden and our friend Ilma.

Let's just say the Elders and Sisters have a tough job! And they do it with a big smile on their faces.

Elder Perry on the streets in Zagreb.

Find Joy in the Journey - Thomas S. Monson

A few weeks ago I posted about how difficult it has been for Dionne and I to live together 24x7. The young missionaries have the same problems. Depression is common. But unlike Dionne and I who have found that we are best when we get some time apart, the missionaries are required to stay near their companion at all times.

Fortunately both Sister Anjewierden and Sister Locey wanted to hike down to the waterfall at Jajce.
So this is where Sister Newton and I have tried to help out a little bit. We love these young missionaries. And we have tried to find ways to help them blow off a little steam. We are allowed to feed them once a week. We generally find it easiest to take them out to restaurants. So this is something that we and they look forward too.

Yes...sometimes it is just McDonalds. But not always!
We have spent a number of P-days with the missionaries. Sometimes we travel to the mountains. Sometimes we play games. Tomorrow we're going to help them clean. If we are available, we are generally willing.

Elders Rasmussen and Isom trying to avoid the lazer eyes on the bobsled run.
Sisters Martineau and Rougeau above Sarajevo.
In November we were asked to help out with the Tuzla missionaries as well. This makes a total of 8 young missionaries that we are responsible for. But it also has allowed for bigger P-day activities. The missionaries sure enjoy themselves when they can all get together.

The Sarajevo and Tuzla group enjoying the sunshine in Mostar.

Dionne and I do not get to visit Tuzla as much as we would like. But we have been very impressed by the Elders who serve there. They have an energy that is infectious.

Our first set of Tuzla missionaries gathered around this old pink French car.
Dionne has spent more time baking than ever before. She has so many hungry mouths to feed. Every time we go to Tuzla they request cinnamon rolls. And cookies in Sarajevo. She has also begun to specialize in cheesecake. Is there any wonder why I am not losing any weight?

One of Dionne's famous cinnamon rolls in Elder Hardy's hands.
In Sarajevo the missionaries volunteer once a week at Riders of Hope. They generally work as side walkers with riders but they have also helped out around the barn when needed. They look forward to the days out serving although some who love horses have found it really hard to not go for a short ride.

Elders Echols and Perry with Aren.

Sister Locey auditioning for the Blue Man Group. That paint was very difficult to get off!

I'll Be Home for Christmas

During the holidays we all yearn for family. For many of the young missionaries, Thanksgiving and Christmas are their first holiday away from family. Come to think of it, this may have been Dionne and my first holiday away from family. So we were grateful that we were able to spend both holidays with the young missionaries here.

We could not find a whole turkey and I bombed on the sweet potatoes. But we still enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner.
We have a number of family Christmas traditions which are not as enjoyable with just Dionne and I. We have always done stockings for the kids, played BINGO on Christmas Eve, and had a big dinner. It was really nice to have a full house for Christmas!

Elders Perry and Isom with their Christmas stockings.

Elder DeLeeuw brought plenty of Christmas spirit!
Because both Tuzla and Sarajevo were mired in a nasty inversion all December, we got permission for everyone to visit Mostar the day after Christmas. A roadtrip in the sunshine, just what the doctor ordered. I remember the moment we drove out of the clouds and saw the sun for the first time in a week. Both cars stopped and everyone jumped out to celebrate.

Working hard to get the perfect picture.

We visited a 15th century Turkish dervish which required the sisters to be covered.
We certainly missed our family this year during the holidays. But having the young missionaries join us made the separation bearable. And it just cemented our love for our these young people.

Dionne has taken this family motif thing a little too far. I had not noticed this but she started measuring every missionary that stops by our apartment a few months ago. So we now have a "kids" wall.

Elder Echols being measured on the wall.

Some of the names on the wall. Sister Martineau purposely took her shoes off so that she would win the "shortest" prize. Perry was happy to have a half inch on Rougeau. Elder Winfield is the tallest to-date.

True Happiness Comes Only By Making Others Happy - David O. McKay

We have served with 17 missionaries in Sarajevo and Tuzla so far (not counting exchanges). And we look forward to serving with many, many more. A bittersweet reality is that every transfer brings a good-bye and a hello. Some good-byes are too early (like Elder Isom) and some are ready to move on (Sister Locey, Elder DeLeeuw). But there is always a hello. And a new missionary to get to know and to love.

Saying good-bye to Elder Isom.
We have served with 17 different missionaries. That is 17 personalities. 17 back stories. 17 tastes in music. 17 hobbies and interests. 17 taste in food. 17 different souls trying to do the best that they are able but in their own way. (The video is of the Elders rocking out to the Christian band Unspoken...leaving their music is probably one of the hardest sacrifices that the missionaries make).

I want to tell a quick story about each missionary that we have served with. I am purposely staying away from religious stories. Understand that many of these missionaries have taught Dionne and I important lessons about the gospel and we are grateful for this. I have included a quick anecdote for each of them in the order of when they appeared in our lives.

The first time we inspected Elder Parkinson's apartment we saw this big white board filled with scribbling. I asked about it. Parkinson said it was his "transfer" board and he was quite proud of it. This was our first introduction to the transfer game. A few weeks before transfers, the missionaries begin to speculate about who will go where. Parkinson made the claim that he is an expert at transfers (I have heard similar claims from Rougeau and Rasmussen). And at least during our first transfer, his board was quite effective. When he left for Tuzla, Parkinson seceded the transfer king crown to his protege, Elder Rasmussen. And, like Dr. Frankenstein, realized that he had created a transfer monster.

Sister Anjewierden is our original Reese's Peanut Butter Cup lover. On our first drive to Banja Luka, we discovered that she has a passion for LDS music. On my iPod I have LDS Living Magazine's list of the top 100 LDS songs. I pulled this list out on the drive and Sister Anjewierden was smitten. Unfortunately, she got her transfer call when we were only at song 48 on the countdown. She really wanted to know where the song "His Hands" was on the list. But I wouldn't skip ahead for her. But I did let her take the iPod on her transfer drive and she was able to learn that "His Hands" is the #2 song on the list.

Anyone who knows Elder Rasmussen is aware that one anecdote is simply not enough. But I am going to keep it to one! Elder Rasmussen has done exceptionally well learning Bosonski. His language skills are better than some who have been out much longer. He kind of likes the language because there is a certain logic to it. And he especially like to spell in Bosonski. Spelling is phonetic. It is simple. Which is good. Because Rasmussen is one of the worst English spellers that I have ever seen. And he admits it. If you look at the above picture, he was teaching us a Bosonski language lesson. But the two words that he has written out are English words, not Bosonski. He once asked me what his weaknesses were. I told him that I was not going there, period. But then he asked my wife and she immediately said "your spelling." Well, I guess I did go there. But I got his permission first. Love you Rasmussen. 

Elder Pickard only spent a short time with us in Tuzla. But it was memorable for all of us. He woke up one morning with pain in his side and so he drove down to Sarajevo for medical care. He loves needles about as much as I do. And so he had the great joy of being poked three times in Sarajevo hospitals. Not that we thought he was pregnant but he got to experience an ultra sound as well. Fortunately it all turned out okay and the "three holes" all healed.
On our first drive with Sister Higlee, she asked about the most spiritual thing we have done so far on our missions. It doesn't happen often but her question left me somewhat stumped. She proceeded to tell her own story which I will not relay here. But when we got back to me, I was still stumped. I have had many long and interesting conversations with the missionaries (Perry made the mistake of asking me about the existence of evil once on a drive...he didn't get to say another word for over an hour) but Higlee got the best of me with that simple question. 

Elder Crapo was not long with us in Tuzla. But we knew of him before we met him. His aunt was visiting Kansas City and attended our ward a few years ago. Dionne talked to her and found that she needed a place to stay. Pretty soon she was a guest of Hotel Newton. Every time we see him in Zagreb he indicates that he is pretty happy there.

The video above is from Elder Isom's farewell dinner. Isom had never tried real raw sushi until this moment. A big piece of salmon sushi. He was apprehensive about putting the whole thing in his mouth but I talked him into it. Big mistake. As you can see, he really struggled to get it down. And it didn't help that he was laughing the whole time. One last note: He was very happy when he found this shirt...hummingbirds. 
When we first arrived in Sarajevo, we offered to take the Elders and the Sisters out to dinner separately. Elders Rasmussen and Parkinson took us to Chipa's, a typical cheap missionary chicken place. Location was great, food serviceable. Sisters Anjewierden and Locey, on the other hand, took us to Mala Kuhinja; a wonderful place where they ask you what type of food you like and then customize a menu for your table. Great place. They only problem was Sister Locey. She does not like vegetables. At all. I take that back. She did eat the fried potatoes. But that was it. No vegetables. I figured that some time in Europe would change that. She came over one night with Mohan and we had eggplant parmesan. Reluctantly she tried it. And like Mikey, she liked it. So at least we had made some progress. At her farewell meal, she requested the rotating restaurant. And nice fancy place on top of a hotel. Great great food. After we had all finished our main dishes, I looked at everyone's plates. Every single plate had been licked clean. The food was that good. Except Locey's plate. She had not eaten her veggies.
Elder Deleeuw is our Bosnia warrior. He has served twice in Banja Luka and a long stint in Tuzla. We thoroughly expected him to be transferred in December but he wasn't. The one big surprise of that transfer. But he is also one of the basketball warriors. We played over Thanksgiving and there were three players who were more noticeably skilled above the others, Elder Crapo, Elder Deleeuw and Elder Rasmussen. Rasmussen kept egging me to give him an assessment of their ball skills ("who is better, me or DeLeeuw?") but I kept mum. But they both are pretty good basketball players. But I am going to have to see Perry on the court before I can make a final ranking.

Back in high school, Elder Hole and a friend bought a little stuffed river otter. They dubbed him "Action Otter." And they decided to take him wherever they travel. For a while they would take turns traveling with their otter. But Hole stole him for the mission. Whenever he finds a interesting locale, out comes Action Otter in various poses. Here Hole is setting up a picture of the Turkish Dervish.  

Elder Hardy seems more comfortable at times changing tires than street contacting. When we popped a tire in Mostar, Hardy quickly got us back on the street. Very workmanlike. But his shoes really caught my eye when we last inspected his apartment. His feet are huge. And so he has a hard time finding shoes in his size. He had this pair sitting on the floor and he had just found replacement shoes for this pair. Just wonder how long he had worn this baby before he finally retired it. Or maybe he just said it was retired?
The missionaries all have memory sticks which they use to keep their music. The mission has an occasional problem with contraband music, as does any mission. Nothing bad. But every once and a while a little pop music shows up. Sometimes after borrowing it, a missionary will accidentally leave their memory sticks in our car. So I have scanned through a few of them to just see what they are listening to. (Fortunately I am not the music police especially with my iPod and its 25,000 songs!). I remember scanning through Perry's music list. A few interesting songs, nothing inappropriate. And then I hit the talk section. General conference talk after general conference talk. Any important talk given in the past 30 years, Perry has it on his memory stick. When asked about it, he said he started downloading a talk each day once his mission started. So he is up to 200+ talks on his stick. That is a lot of jamming to the conference oldies.

Early in her mission, Sister Rougeau (ends with an "o" sound) served with Sister Lougee (ends with an "a" sound). Since that time, everyone in the mission has been pronouncing her name incorrectly. Elder Hardy makes light of this each district meeting spelling her name Rogeu, Rojeau, and ultimately using the Bosonski spelling of Ru┼żo. It took me a month before I finally started pronouncing it correctly! Once in a while I even hear President Grant say it wrong. 
When we brought the Tuzla Elders some U.S. contraband, Leech's reaction was quite entertaining. He did a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and Dr. Pepper dance of joy. It was not a mock dance. It was a really happy dance. Think of the Ren and Stimpy's Happy Happy Joy Joy song. He did the same dance of joy when an investigator messaged him back. 

"Where is the on-off switch on this thing?" Elder Echols has some fascinating hobbies. We talked about one of them on our first long drive. He taught himself how to play the accordion. I, of course, was fascinated. Even more fascinated by this than the fact that he has lived in both Virginia and Kings Mill (home of King's Island). He told me a tremendous amount about accordions and convinced me that it was one of the hardest instruments to play. I was so interested that I broke the mission music rules. On my iPod I have a playlist from the old Lawrence Welk Show. So I opened up that playlist and had him comment on the accordion player. I now have a much greater appreciation of the artistry of Myron Floren. Just for fun when he is sitting at the church piano, he plays me hymns like Come, Come Ye Saints...but polka style.
Sister Martineau is from a small town in New Mexico and immediately reminded Dionne and I of our old Denver neighbor, Kim Bugg. After service we usually take the missionaries to lunch. When asked what sounded good, Sister Martineau immediately replied, "Lasagna", but we weren't sure where we could find any where that actually served it here. We owed them a dinner the next week so rather than eat out they asked Dionne to make lasagna. And we went to the bobsled with 6 missionaries recently. At the starting gate is the luge start which requires a steep climb to the top. Who else but Sister Martineau appeared with a big smile at the top of the luge hill?

We have only spent a few hours with Elder Evans. He is from small town Australia. Flat outback Australia. Told me that vegemite is good but you have to know how to cook it. When we brought U.S. contraband to the Tuzla Elders (Mtn Dew), Evans gave his to Leech. But it was something he said this week as we were inspecting their apartment that made me chuckle. We were talking about how the two companions were getting along. Fortunately, they both seem to be clean and tidy and their apartment reflected it. But he said they had a bonding moment a little while ago over their joint love for a single fruit: grapefruit. So Evans told me that whenever they are not getting along, they remember that they always have "grapefruit." Reminded me of the classic Casablanca line: "We'll always have Paris."

1 comment:

  1. This is a wonderful post and the mothers of missionaries in your area are going to love it. We completely agree with you that serving with the young missionaries is one of the highlights of a senior mission. You get to become surrogate parents or grandparents to some of the most amazing you men and women alive. Thanks for sharing you continuing adventures.